Chelsey Allder, Deseret News
FILE - Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City is sworn in at the Senate in Salt Lake City Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.

SALT LAKE CITY — A House panel endorsed a bill Wednesday that would increase the penalty for intentionally killing a K-9 police dog.

Police officers packed a House Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Committee hearing to share emotional stories about the heroic efforts of their dogs, some of which were shot in the line of duty.

Unified Police Lt. Chad Reyes told lawmakers he and other officers would not be alive were it not for their K-9s.

"They will sacrifice their lives for me, for you and your families," he said.

HB57, sponsored Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, would bump intentionally or knowingly killing a police dog from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Reyes noted that stealing a K-9 is currently a second-degree felony.

The committee voted 11-0 to advance the bill to House floor. It passed the Senate last week.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he struggled with the issue.

"To even question a bill like this makes you feel like an insensitive jerk," he said. "Do we have to vote for this bill? Kinda."

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Hutchings said it's a measure to make people feel good and show the proper amount of respect to an animal that served valiantly. If the argument is that police dogs are officers, maybe the penalty for killing one should be a first-degree felony, he said.

"There is no deterrent effect in his bill. This bill is a respect bill," he said.

Iwamoto said "know-how" criminals understand that killing a police dog under the current law can be pleaded down to a misdemeanor. The bar for prosecution, she said, remains high with the change in the penalty.